Born Umberto Poli in Trieste, the son of a Jewish mother and a Christian father who abandoned the family two years later. Trained in a vocational school for clerical work, though he had early decided to be a writer. Wandered restlessly through Northern Italy from 1902 onwards. In 1907 met the seamstress whom he was to marry a year later. Served as an inspector of airfields in the First World War, and after the war became an antiquarian bookdealer in Trieste, buying a shop which guaranteed him a steady income. Suffered from psychological disturbances in the 1920s and underwent psychoanalysis in 1929, becoming for a time a doctrinaire Freudian. Harassed by the Fascist authorities and forced to close his shop during the Second World War; protected by Montale during his stay in Florence. Displeased by the critical neglect he encountered in the post-war years, which prompted him to write a commentary on his own poems. Died in Gorizia, near Trieste.
Although he wrote a poetry of potentially much wider appeal than his contemporaries Ungaretti and Montale, Saba remained little known outside Italy during his lifetime, and frequently ignored by the Italian literary establishment. In the absence of the critical attention he rightly believed to be his due Saba offered in his History and Chronicle of the 'Canzoniere' ( 1948) his own assessment of a body of work which, beside the extravagance of d'Annunzio on the one hand and the experiments of the 'Hermeticists' on the other, was bound to seem, in the poet's bitterly sardonic description, 'peripheral and backward'. No one who has read the best of